PSC representatives told members of a
Speaking to the members and to
"The Internet is constantly changing," Minney said. "That makes it hard for standard utility regulation to keep up."
The members are working under the direction of SCR 78, to explore "authorizing the
The resolution notes there is very little effective competition to encourage and stimulate price competition. Rates for ISPs vary widely from state to state and consumers in adjoining states can pay lower rates for similar services. There is no state regulation or oversight of ISPs, and it would be in the public interest to provide a forum for customers to comment on rate structures and rate proposals, and to submit grievances.
Minney said the PSC oversees electric and phone utilities, but the feds -- through statute and court cases -- won't allow it to deal with the Internet.
Minney observed that there is competition in the state -- some areas have up to seven available providers, including dial-up, satellite and DSL.
Subcommittee co-chairman Sen.
That led co-chairwoman Delegate
"Interest is one thing. Capability is another," Minney said. He said the
As legislators have previously discussed, one provider -- Frontier -- is responsible for implementing the federal stimulus Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) technology grant to provide broadband access to more than 1,000 government-based anchor institutions in the state. But that doesn't take the broadband to rural homes and businesses. The BTOP isn't really designed to do that.
Potential competitors have previously told legislators that Frontier charges other ISPs 10 to 20 times the national rate for access to its lines. For instance, it would charge
Short said she wasn't aware of that. ISPs are subject to an interconnect agreement and should be able to file complaints if they're blocked.
Minney told members that consumer-related issues, such as fraud, price gouging or disparate treatment, would fall to the attorney general.
After the meeting, Staggers disagreed with the PSC attorneys' views. "This is a utility," she said. "It needs to be regulated to protect consumers and to protect minors. The PSC just needs to learn that."
A survey of dictionary definitions of "public utility" indicates they are business enterprises performing an essential public service and subject to federal, state or local regulation. Many members agree with Staggers that given the vast presence of the Internet, ISPs are utilities and should be regulated.
(c)2013 The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.)
Visit The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.) at www.dominionpost.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services